Find your town’s hidden gems at the food swap

Have I mentioned how much I love swapping?

The idea of bartering items with your neighbors has always been an appealing one to me. I love barter fairs, swap meets, flea markets and potlucks, I even went to a CD burning party back when we used to burn CDs.  This rolls all of the best things about potlucks —  trying someone else’s special dish, learning about new recipes, techniques or ingredients — and all of the best things about bartering — like meeting new people, getting to go home with some of those delicious food items, and the overall satisfaction you get from knowing you got a great deal — into one incredibly rewarding afternoon.

It’s really simple.

Step 1: Decide what to make and make it. Nothing is off-limits. We’ve had breads, jams, sauces, chutneys, salts, dressings, desserts, cookies, empenadas, chile rellenos, several variations of pulled pork and BBQ pork or other meat, homemade beer, ice cream, roasted tomatoes, salsas and more. Many people also bring vegetables from their gardens or fruit from their trees. There are no rules.

Personally, I used some oldies but goodies to swap, my smoky plum BBQ sauce, apple cider jelly and spicy pickled veggies, as well as an extra jar of roasted berry/pepper jam.  It was a lot of work, but I walked away with at least one of everything. Score.

The idea is to walk away with one of everything. It feels so good to come home with all of this!

Step 2: Separate the food  — about 2-3 servings. Say, a jar of jam, a loaf of bread, a tupperware container of meat, a ziplock baggie with a few pastries or cookies — you get the idea. Again, there are no rules.

Step 3: Show up and swap it! I cannot really emphasize enough the extent to which There Really Are No Rules, except that everything is swapped. No money changes hands. Sometimes people have run out of a particular item, in which case they might trade someone an item for an IOU, or negotiate a co-swap with another participant. This is also why we recommend that if you bring something that may be prohibitive, that you also bring an alternative — for example, one swapper makes a simply phenomenal empenada recipe handed down from her father who is Argentinian. The Argentinian style is to stuff the delicious hand-sized pies with ground beef, green olives and hardboiled eggs with a ton of delicious spices, but since some people don’t eat beef or are vegetarians, she also made a second batch of empenadas with pepper jack cheese, jalepenos and roasted corn. Of course, you don’t have to bring a vegetarian alternative, but in the event that you want to swap with a vegetarian, the issue might come up.

These empenadas will knock your socks off.

Which brings me to the next best thing about a food swap: it’s a community event. It’s not a competition for the best item or the most sales, nor is it a money-making endeavor where you want to sell your wares and make sure you don’t get swindled.  Everyone seems to feel the good vibes and so far, I have done four of these events in San Diego and have never seen anyone leave unhappy. I’ve blogged about how great food swaps are before here and here, but honestly, I can’t say enough about how great they are. It’s hard to put into words the spirit of community and the feelings of good food that run rampant at each event. 

The feeling started before the swap even began. A woman contacted me and told me she couldn’t make it to the swap because she was volunteering somewhere else at the time, but had a veritible orchard in her backyard, consisting of wine grapes, fig trees, apple trees and countless other greens, herbs and vegetables. She brought me shopping two bags bursting with fresh fruits before the swap and insisted she didn’t want anything for it, and that she was just frustrated that she didn’t have enough recipes, especially for the figs.

As I was giving away the fruits on her behalf, I asked the swappers that took some fruits to email me the recipes they used. (If you also have a great recipe for figs, please post it as a comment and I will pass it along. She needs more.) Here’s my favorite so far:

Fig/Vanilla Jam

This is courtesty of swapper and baker extraordinare Peggy Spitz (she made an insanely tasty Kona Banana Bread for the August San Diego Food Swap, which I could eat for three meals a day).

  • About 14 figs, cut into into quarters
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • juice of 1/4 of one lemon
  • 1 tsp. vanilla or one vanilla bean

Simmer until the figs are tender, and puree the chunks through a food processor or blender and reheat, or use an immersion blender while cooking. Add a teaspoon of vanilla place them into mason jars (makes about 10 small jars).

Some of the food swap fixings don’t need mason jars or canning time. Swapper Elena Romero made a delicious post-swap pizza pie with her own homemade pizza dough (which she also swapped), my plum BBQ sauce, pulled pork from swapper Sandy D’Onofrio, and a few homegrown chile peppers.

Isn't that lovely?

The bottom line is, you can’t afford to NOT go to the food swap in your town. Check here for a list of the organized towns with food swaps I know of. If you don’t have one, start one like I did. The reward is so worth it!

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The beauty of chutneys

I’ve always enjoyed chutneys and tapenades, especially the more savory ones.  Especially now that I am getting more into smoking meat and all the new things I can do with my M7P, I am trying to branch out into chutneys and sauces (see the last post, where I made a Christmas plum chutney and smoky plum BBQ sauce). There are a lot more chutney recipes I want to try, and I am also looking forward to experimenting with some new ideas using what’s in season.

But onions are always in season, and since chutneys are good when you make them but get better as they age (in a sealed container), I thought a good carmelized onion chutney was the way to go. I chose some nice, big, sweet onions, and I didn’t have some items so I did some swapping — cumin for coriander and apple cider vinegar/ white vinegar for the malt vinegar.

 (Although next time I make this I will be sure to have some malt vinegar on hand; I am sure it adds a very good flavor to the chutney.)

The whole recipe is deliciously fragrant, and very easy to adapt using what you have on hand. If you try this recipe I think it would also be good to add some jalapeno or maybe a smoky chipotle pepper to the pot for a little kick. Much like other chutney recipes, this is heavy on the vinegar so the longer it is allowed to ferment in that jar; the better it will taste. But right now, I have to say, it tastes wicked good on some smoked chicken.

Plum Crazy Part II — “Kitchen Sink” Recipes: Christmas Chutney and Smoky Plum BBQ Sauce

Some of my best dishes haven’t been recipes at all… they’ve been what my Grandma Verla calls “kitchen sink” recipes, as in that you use everything but the kitchen sink, and use up that half-bag of whatnot in the cupboard and the half-cup of what-have-you in the fridge.

It's all about knowing what tastes good together. You don't have to be a chef, you just have to love food.

I was planning already to take some of my friend’s plums and smoke them in my smoker to make a nice BBQ sauce. After smoking a few kinds of meat this past weekend, over wild apple wood chips (mixed with a handful of chips made from the oak barrels they make Tabasco in), there was only an hour or so to smoke the plums, but I know they got some of that delicious woody flavor.

The beginnings of BBQ sauce.

I also added some fresh and non-smoked plums, as well as some smoked garlic and smoked jalapeno. It all went into a big pot with oranges, orange juice, dried and chopped figs, a shot or so of brandy, a cup of my neighbor’s homemade margharita hot sauce, apple cider vinegar, some chili-lime flavored finising salts, candied ginger, shallot and garlic oil, tomato paste, a bay leaf, allspice, a dash of cinnamon, and various peppery spices. I let it simmer for hours and I am so glad … it has a delicious, sweet and peppery flavor, and a citrusy aftertaste.

I also tweaked a delicious spiced plum chutney recipe: swapping the demerara sugar for half white and half brown sugar, plus I added raisins and some candied ginger for extra spiciness. This is so easy to cook, and like the best recipes, is born out of what you have lying around. It smells amazing while it’s cooking, and you can see as the cooking progresses how wonderfully the ingredients work together.

The before photo:

"Before"

As it’s cooking:

"During"

And the finished product. So yummy.

"After"

It’s lovely and tastes amazing on some pork tenderloin and chicken. I learned also that chutneys are best when they ave been allowed to sit and ferment for a few months. I can’t wait to break this out again for the holidays!

** Note: After this post was made live, it was brought to my attention that my altering of the chutney recipe (adding raisins and ginger) might have altered the acid levels in the chutney. I used a pressure canner to seal the jars of BBQ sauce and chutney in this post. Just to be on the safe side, if you alter the recipe like I did, I would recommend that you seal the jars in a pressure canner instead of a water bath.

Plum Crazy, Part I — I still have all these oranges

I am lucky enough to live in San Diego, and to have a lot of friends with fruit trees. Really, most things grow well around here if you try hard enough, but even a tree that is neglected most of the year can yield some great fruit. Most of them yield more fruit than any one person knows what the heck to do with, but that’s a perfect time to experiment!

Fresh from the tree!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I now own a really cool smoker that has already proven its worth in smoking garlic, jalapenos, pork tenderloin, chicken, sausage and steak. I’m also a sucker for a good sauce. My first idea is for a smoky plum barbeque sauce, building on what I recently learned about smoking garlic. I’m also leaning towards something that isn’t jam — I’d hate to become predictable — and I found an amazingly good-looking recipe for a Christmasy plum chutney. I learned that chutney is best if you seal it and then let it sit for a few months, so this is a perfect summer recipe to be holiday gifts later. 

The first bag of plums had been picked a couple of days before, and were given to me late last night. It became clear that these would have to be made into something immediately, and that most were fully ripe, if not borderline mushy.  This calls for a liquor emergency! Brandy and large mason jars, stat!

And, let’s face it, I still have a ton of oranges from another friend’s tree. I sliced about 5 oranges, peel and all, and removed the peel totally from another 8 or 9 oranges. This jam will need to have a little bitter flavor to offset the plum and spices. I prepped the oranges (i.e., sliced them, covered them in water) and let them sit overnight.

The next day … the oranges have been sitting at room temperature for 24 hours. I open up this huge bag of gorgeous plums. Ok, first things first. I have to triage the plums into the too-far-gone for use (to the garbage bag — sorry fellas); the cutting board to have pits and blemishes removed, then the good parts scrapped for jam; and the ready mason jars for the intact and pretty ones.

First, for the brandied plums. Equal parts brandy and sugar (I started with 4 cups each and that was only enough for two large jars), and only fill the jars about halfway with plums so they all can freely move around in there. That was easy … and these will be EXCELLENT in a couple of months!

The syrup is equal parts sugar and brandy.

Next, the jam. I prepared these oranges the same way I did in the citrus jelly post, so that I won’t have to add a tonnage of extra (and unneeded) sugar or storebought pectin. After bringing the oranges to a boil and letting them simmer for about 45 minutes, I strained the liquid through a jelly bag, and used the liquid – equal parts liquid to sugar. Then I added it to a pot of already-softening chunks of plum, fresh orange slices, and cinnamon. It doesn’t look like much, but it makes the house smell like Christmas. 🙂

Check back for the next post! With the next sack of plums I get, I plan to make chutney and barbeque sauce.